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Legal Information: Washington

Custody

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Updated: 
December 3, 2020

Who can be part of the parenting plan?

The judge will try to incorporate both parents into the parenting plan. However, if one parent is unfit, a judge can award all of the parenting time and decision-making authority to the other parent.1

In addition, a non-parent who is interested in the welfare of the child might be able to ask for guardianship.2 For more information see Can a non-parent file for custody of a child?

1 R.C.W. § 26.09.191
2 R.C.W. § 11.130.190(1)

What are other factors that may limit a parent's right to decision-making or residential parenting time?

A judge may limit a parent’s contact or responsibilities with the child if any of the following factors exist:

  1. neglect or non-performance of parenting functions;
  2. a long-term emotional/physical impairment that interferes with parenting functions;
  3. a long term impairment from substance abuse that interferes with parenting functions;
  4. absence/impairment of emotional ties between parent and child;
  5. the use of conflict by the parent, which creates the danger of serious damage to child’s psychological development;
  6. a parent has withheld the other parent’s access to the child for a long period of time without good cause; and/or
  7. other factors that may negatively affect the child.1

1 R.C.W. § 26.09.191(3)

Can a non-parent file for custody of a child?

In Washington state, non-parents cannot file for “custody” but they can file for guardianship. A non-parent can file for guardianship of a minor child only if:

  1. each parent has consented to the guardianship;
  2. all parental rights have been terminated; or
  3. there is clear evidence that neither parent of the child is willing to exercise parenting functions.1

“Parenting functions” include:

  1. maintaining a loving, stable, consistent, and nurturing relationship with the child;
  2. attending to the daily needs of the child, such as feeding, clothing, physical care and grooming, supervision, health care, and day care;
  3. doing other activities that are appropriate to the developmental level of the child and that are within the social and economic circumstances of the particular family;
  4. providing an adequate education for the child, including remedial or other education that the child needs;
  5. helping the child in developing and maintaining appropriate interpersonal relationships;
  6. exercising appropriate judgment regarding the child’s welfare, consistent with the child’s developmental level and the family’s social and economic circumstances; and
  7. providing for the financial support of the child.2

The Washington Courts website has links to court forms that are needed to file a guardianship case. WashingtonLawHelp.org has additional information about non-parental guardianship but please note that WomensLaw.org is not affiliated with WashingtonLawHelp.org and cannot vouch for the information contained on that site.

For more information, you may want to talk to a lawyer. See our WA Finding A Lawyer page for legal referrals.

1 R.C.W. § 11.130.185(2)
2 R.C.W. § 26.09.004(2)